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Stearns v. Inmate Services Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Jonesboro Division

November 1, 2018





         The following recommended disposition has been sent to United States District Judge Billy Roy Wilson. Any party may serve and file written objections to this recommendation. Objections should be specific and should include the factual or legal basis for the objection. If the objection is to a factual finding, specifically identify that finding and the evidence that supports your objection. An original and one copy of your objections must be received in the office of the United States District Court Clerk no later than fourteen (14) days from the date of the findings and recommendations. The copy will be furnished to the opposing party. Failure to file timely objections may result in waiver of the right to appeal questions of fact.

         If you are objecting to the recommendation and also desire to submit new, different, or additional evidence, and to have a hearing for this purpose before the District Judge, you must, at the same time that you file your written objections, include the following:

1. Why the record made before the Magistrate Judge is inadequate.
2. Why the evidence proffered at the hearing (if such a hearing is granted) was not offered at the hearing before the Magistrate Judge.
3. The details of any testimony desired to be introduced at the new hearing in the form of an offer of proof, and a copy, or the original, of any documentary or other non-testimonial evidence desired to be introduced at the new hearing.

         From this submission, the District Judge will determine the necessity for an additional evidentiary hearing. Mail your objections and “Statement of Necessity” to:

Clerk, United States District Court Eastern District of Arkansas 600 West Capitol Avenue, Suite A149 Little Rock, AR 72201-3325



         Danzel Stearns (“Plaintiff”) has filed this action alleging Defendants Inmate Services Corporation (“ISC”) and John Does, who are up to one hundred unknown ISC agents and employees, violated his constitutional rights, as protected by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and California Civil Code § 52.1 when they transported him from Colorado to Mississippi from September 17 to 24, 2016.[1] (Doc. Nos. 1, 10.) Plaintiff has filed a Motion seeking class certification of these claims, to which Defendants have objected. (Doc. Nos. 50, 55.) All parties are represented by counsel.

         Defendants ISC and Does[2] have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, arguing they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. (Doc. Nos. 69, 70.) Plaintiff has filed a Response, and Defendants have filed two Replies. (Doc. Nos. 71, 73, 74, 76.) Thus, this matter is now ripe for a decision.

         After careful review of the pleadings and for the following reasons, I find Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted as to the § 1983 claims, and I recommend those claims be dismissed with prejudice. Rather than dismissing Plaintiff's California state law claim on the merits as requested by Defendants, I recommend the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over that claim and dismiss it without prejudice. For the same reason, I recommend the state contract claims raised by Intervenors National Continental Insurance Company and Scottsdale Insurance Company be dismissed without prejudice. Finally, I recommend Plaintiff's Motion for Class Certification (Doc. No. 50) be denied as moot and the consolidation of this case with the Peters negligence action be severed.


         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment is proper “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by citing to particular parts of materials in the record, “including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(A).

         When ruling on a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Naucke v. City of Park Hills, 284 F.3d 923, 927 (8th Cir. 2002). The nonmoving party may not rely on allegations or denials but must demonstrate the existence of specific facts that create a genuine issue for trial. Mann v. Yarnell, 497 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2007). The nonmoving party's allegations must be supported by sufficient probative evidence that would permit a finding in his favor on more than mere speculation, conjecture, or fantasy. Id. (citations omitted). A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that it could cause a reasonable jury to return a verdict for either party; a fact is material if its resolution affects the outcome of the case. Othman v. City of Country Club Hills, 671 F.3d 672, 675 (8th Cir. 2012). Disputes that are not genuine or that are about facts that are not material will not preclude summary judgment. Sitzes v. City of West Memphis, Ark., 606 F.3d 461, 465 (8th Cir. 2010).

         III. FACTS

         The facts, taken mostly from Plaintiff's deposition and viewed in the light most favorable to him, are as follows. (Doc. Nos. 70, 71, 73, 76.) ISC is a small, private company located in West Memphis, Arkansas, with approximately ten employees and two to four vehicles it uses to transport convicted prisoners and pretrial detainees between various correctional facilities across the United States. (Doc. No. 71-3.)

         On September 17, 2016, an ISC van, driven by Mr. Chris Weiss and Ms. Ryan Moore, picked-up Plaintiff, who was a pretrial detainee at a county jail in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to transport him to a county jail in New Albany, Mississippi, to face state drug charges. (Doc. Nos. 69, 71-1.) Rather than driving directly to Mississippi, the van traveled through California and numerous other states where additional prisoners were picked up and dropped off at other facilities. (Id.)

         The eight-day trip was continuous, without any overnight stops. (Id.) The drivers took turns sleeping on a mattress in the front of the van, while Plaintiff and the other passengers remained in upright, seated positions. (Id.) Although Plaintiff was not allowed to lie down, he admitted during his deposition that he was able to take thirty-minute “catnaps” while in a seated position and he was able to get out of the van to stretch when it stopped for refueling or bathroom breaks. (Doc. No. 71-7 at 18, 44.) Plaintiff's buttocks allegedly became raw from the prolonged sitting, and the van drivers provided him with an over-the-counter cream to treat it.[3] (Id. at 43, 52.)

         Throughout the journey, Plaintiff was in handcuffs and leg shackles with a belly chain connecting the two restraints. (Doc. No. 71-7 at 8-9.) Plaintiff claims the restraints caused the skin on his ankles and wrists to become “raw” and “irritated, ” and despite his complaints, they were not loosened or removed.[4] (Id. at 35.)

         There were no bathrooms on the van, and bathroom breaks at public gas stations and rest stops were allegedly infrequent. (Id. at 30-34.) As a result, Plaintiff claims he was forced to urinate in a cup on two or three occasions, that other prisoners accidentally spilled urine on the van floor while doing the same, and that one prisoner soiled herself. (Id.) Plaintiff also asserts his restraints were not removed or loosened while he used the bathroom, thereby making it impossible for him to properly wipe or wash his hands. (Id.) Plaintiff says this caused him to have “clogs of manure in my drawers.” (Id. at 31.)

         During his deposition, Plaintiff testified he received fast food for breakfast and dinner, but no lunch. (Id. at 45-48.) Plaintiff says he was given a bottle of water once, but otherwise only received fluids with meals. (Id. at 49-50.) Plaintiff alleges Mr. Weiss threatened him with a gun and mace when he asked for a shower and a pack of cigarettes. (Id. at 27-29.)

         Plaintiff was not allowed to brush his teeth, shave, bathe, or use hand sanitizer throughout the trip. (Id. at 28, 39, 51.) Plaintiff claims this caused him to develop a quarter-size patch of ringworm on his stomach, but there is no evidence he reported it to either driver. (Id. at 55-56.)

         Plaintiff arrived at the Mississippi jail on September 24, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 69, 71-1.) He received oral antibiotics for ringworm, which “went right away.” (Doc. No. 71-7 at 55-56, 60.) However, Plaintiff did not report any other medical problems (such as raw buttocks from constant sitting or skin irritations from the restraints) ...

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